In Revelation 2:1-7, Jesus has a word for the church of Ephesus. This was a church that had the privilege (a few decades earlier) of having the apostle Paul stay with them for 3 years (Acts 20:31). Now, several years later, Jesus commends them because they persevered through some very hard times (Rev 2:3), and were strict on evil men/false teachers and they preserved good doctrine (v 2, 6). Yet, all of this was useless because they had forgotten the greatest commandment – to love God with all their heart (Matt 22:37).
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love (Rev 2:4).
Despite all the good teaching, the history of fellowship with godly apostles, and the difficult trials that they successfully endured; they still lost their longing for God. This tells me how seriously I must aim to maintain my devotion to the Lord.
Recently I had a point where I felt myself growing cold toward my First Love. When I realized this, this verse came to mind (Rev 2:4), but I forgot what Jesus had said to the Ephesian church after verse 4. I knew that Jesus did give them some direction on exactly what to do. Since I couldn't remember what it was, I turned to Revelation 2 and read the solution that Jesus gave in the next verse:
Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent. (Rev 2:5)
This verse tells me that if I lose my first love, I need to remember where I’ve fallen from, and do the things I used to do – back during times when I’ve truly longed for Him more than I currently do. I picture it as a married couple who remember back to the early days when they would desire to spend all their time together, hold hands as they walked down the street, and talk to each other about anything and everything. Similarly, I can remember many of the times I had with God in the early days - how eager I was to get away from the ‘rat race’, and just spend time with Him. I realized that these were the "deeds" that Jesus was referring to - the effortless passion and choices to be in fellowship with Him that I had in the early days.
I never want to lose that hunger for God. So I must take Jesus’ advice and repent and remember where I’ve fallen from. I need to “do the deeds I did at first,” coming back to the basics – being a child who is needy for his Father and longing to be with Him. Every believer should be like a child in this way, but over time we must learn to do it with consistency. Children often have a wonderful eagerness, but a terrible inconsistency because they are immature. Maturity is marked by consistency. My desire is to always maintain the eagerness of a little child who is attached to his Father and always wants to be around Him, but also to have the consistency of a mature adult.
Another thing that I realized is that distraction plays a huge part in keeping my love for the Lord stoked. The moment I start to become too interested in something else, it distracts me from what’s really important. If the devil can’t make us fall into situations that are sinful, he’ll prod at us with worldly activities and cares which are lawful, but not profitable - to the point that we are overindulging and totally distracted from the things of God.
These are the thorns that Jesus talked about that choke the word (Matt 13:22). And these surprisingly are not always just obvious things like worshiping sports or becoming obsessed with work or some hobby (though these can be thorns as well for some people). In my experience they can even be seemingly profitable things like becoming so caught up with studying certain things in the Bible - like the end times, apologetics, politics, or prying into certain other mysteries that God chose not to reveal to us (Deut 29:29). I remember hearing about groups of people who would have debates on such pointless issues like how many angels could fit on the head of a pin! Maybe it seems like godly debate because ‘angels’ are in the bible and we can feel godly talking about them, but the devil knows the answer to this question much better than us, and it did NOTHING to preserve his love and loyalty to God!
We also can be people who can have “Christian” distractions, who are caught up with serving in some areas (music, ministry, etc). These are wonderful things, but they can make us lose our first love if they are not put in second place where they should be. The story of Martha and Mary clearly teaches this to us (Lk 10:38-42). Any distraction that draws us away from simple longing for God should be cut back, or taken out altogether until we can be disciplined enough to be rooted and grounded in God’s love most of all.
I also wanted to make it clear that we do not measure our love for God primarily by our emotional feelings for Him. Sometimes we may experience feelings of euphoria for our Lord, where we are determined by the grace of God to give up everything for Him. Other times we may weep bitterly in prayer or during a song. It’s true that we may have emotional extremes when seeking God, but we all know from experience that it’s only a matter of time before these emotions calm down. It’s not that emotional feelings for the Lord are bad… it’s just that they are unreliable. If I choose only to follow God when I’m on an emotional high, I will have a very pitiful Christian experience. It will be similar to the Israelites in the wilderness who wanted to follow God at certain times, and then at other times they desired to go back to Egypt and back into slavery! So our emotions should not define our love for God, but the bible does tell us what real love for God is:
For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)
What does keeping God’s commandments have to do with loving God? For many years this was confusing to me because I noticed that I could often obey God without even thinking about Him. I realized that it’s possible to obey God’s commands simply because I know it’s the right thing to do. So how can we tie in our obedience of God's commands with our love for Him?
Recently God has given me some light on this, and it has changed my view of sin and obedience. He has allowed my heart to see more clearly that even though Christ paid for every one of my sins on the cross, sin still grieves Him and causes Him pain whenever I commit it. Every sin that is committed (breaking God’s commands) is so evil to God that it deeply hurts Him and grieves Him (Ephesians 4:30). Jesus suffered the wrath of God on the cross, so that He could forever take on the punishment that I deserve. But God still deeply grieves even today every single time I sin. Sin was not free 2000 years ago, and sin is not free now! It hurt Jesus when He was on the cross, and it still hurts God today every time we sin.
I can know my love for God is pure when I don’t want to grieve Him. Thus, my love for God is defined by me having a hatred of sin, which is a desire to not grieve God even one bit. Real love is choosing rather to suffer ourselves, than to let the Object of our affection suffer instead (our Lord). This is exactly what Jesus said His love was like: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
I'd rather take the pain that comes with denying my self-will and not getting my way, than to grieve God.
I’d rather hold my tongue and let my ego be killed, than to lash out in anger and gain some satisfaction in my flesh, but cause God to grieve at the same time.
I’d rather do work which I’m not required to do and be a servant cleaning up someone else’s mess, rather than rebel against my co-workers and have an “it’s not my job” attitude. A little bit of extra work may make me tired, but I should prefer that to disappointing my Father in Heaven.
God suffered and gave up what was most valuable to Him for me. And I want to give up something of value to Him. From God's Word, I see that what is of real value to God is to choose to suffer in the flesh myself (by not getting my way) so that God can be glorified.
So as individuals and as a church, let us have the same attitude as David who had the right heart when he said, “I won’t give to God that which costs me nothing.” (2 Sam 24:24).